The Air Force's 'Ultimate Battle Plane' Is Approaching Initial Operating Capability

Gear
An AC-130J Ghostrider gunship, Block 20 model, shuts down after arriving to Hurlburt Field, Fla., for the first time July 18, 2016.
U.S. Air Force photo

The AC-130J Ghostrider, the next-generation gunship the Air Force once dubbed its “ultimate battle plane” and “a bomb truck with guns,” will be ready to rain hellfire down on unsuspecting enemies by the end of September, the head of Air Force Special Operations Command announced on Sept. 19.


“We are declaring IOC, Initial Operating Capability, this month on the AC-J,” AFSOC chief Lt. Gen Marshall Webb told reporters at the Air Force Association’s annual conference, per Military.com. “This is a fully configured gunship.”

The modified Lockheed C-130J, originally ordered as a replacement for the AC-130H Spectre, was built for aggressive close-air support, boasting a 30mm GAU-23/A autocannon and a suite of precision-guided munitions that include the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb and AGM-176 Griffin missile. The weapons systems are governed by modular Precision Strike Package (PSP), previously tested on AC-130W Stinger II aircraft starting in 2009, that includes advanced GPS guidance capabilities and brand-new fire control interface, according to Military.com.

But the crown jewel of the Ghostrider is the brutal 105mm M102 howitzer system, which can fire off 10 50-pound shells a minute with devastating accuracy. A confirmed addition to the Ghostrider in January 2015 after years of debate within AFSOC, the 105mm cannon seems like a no-brainer for the next-gen battlewagon: As one weapons system officer told Air Force Times in October 2016: "It's literally an artillery weapon that we decided to shoot down from the sky, instead of up from the ground."

Photo via DoD

Tech. Sgt. Jarred Huseman, left, and Tech. Sgt. Oscar Garcia, special missions aviators with the 1st Special Operations Group, Detachment 2, load a 105 mm cannon on an AC-130J Ghostrider gunship, “Angry Annie,” during a training mission over Eglin Range, Fla., Jan. 23, 2017.

If AFSOC gets its way, the 105mm cannon won’t even be the Ghostrider’s most unusual big gun: As of April 2017, AFSOC was exploring experimenting with a directed-energy laser system designed to knock out enemy electronics and disable critical infrastructure.  “Without the slightest bang, whoosh, thump, explosion, or even aircraft engine hum, [key targets] are permanently disabled,” Webb told National Defense magazine of the laser weapon’s potential function during CAS operations. “The enemy has no communications, no escape vehicle, no electrical power and no retaliatory [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability].”

Related: The Air Force Is Preparing To Test A Laser Cannon On The AC-130J Ghostrider »

With 10 Ghostriders in its current fleet, the Air Force plans on purchasing up to 37 total from Lockheed by fiscal year 2021. But despite its new IOC status, the aircraft won’t actually see combat downrange for several years, with full operational capacity by 2025 at the earliest.

Why not send the Ghostrider downrange immediately? Webb cited training delays wrought by the high operational tempo facing special operations forces in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria — an operational tempo that’s only likely to increase in the coming months. Indeed, Webb told reporters that AFSOC commandos have seen deployment rates beyond those previously experienced by the DoD, with some of the command’s 14,461 active-duty troops deploying more than a dozen times in their careers, per Air Force Times.

Photo illustration via AFSOC/DoD

A photo illustration of a laser-eqipped AC-130 gunship in action

“The challenge that we have, it’s my problem, is how do we fight the current fight — we have gunships deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria — and use those same people to convert into a new weapon system,” Webb told reporters on Sept. 19. “We’re not going to have the luxury of doing what most normal units do.”

But once the timing is right, the Ghostrider is ready and able to do what it does best and rain total destruction down on America’s enemies. And despite the burdens placed on AFSOC by 16 years of non-stop war abroad, the Webb had a simple message regarding the command’s readiness: “We’re not waiting around.”

WATCH NEXT:

"It's kind of like the equivalent of dropping a soda can into canyon and putting on a blindfold and going and finding it, because you can't just look down and see it," diver Jeff Goodreau said of finding the wreck.

The USS Eagle 56 was only five miles off the coast of Maine when it exploded.

The World War I-era patrol boat split in half, then slipped beneath the surface of the North Atlantic. The Eagle 56 had been carrying a crew of 62. Rescuers pulled 13 survivors from the water that day. It was April 23, 1945, just two weeks before the surrender of Nazi Germany.

The U.S. Navy classified the disaster as an accident, attributing the sinking to a blast in the boiler room. In 2001, that ruling was changed to reflect the sinking as a deliberate act of war, perpetuated by German submarine U-853, a u-boat belonging to Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine.

Still, despite the Navy's effort to clarify the circumstances surrounding the sinking, the Eagle 56 lingered as a mystery. The ship had sunk relatively close to shore, but efforts to locate the wreck were futile for decades. No one could find the Eagle 56, a small patrol ship that had come so close to making it back home.

Then, a group of friends and amateur divers decided to try to find the wreck in 2014. After years of fruitless dives and intensive research, New England-based Nomad Exploration Team successfully located the Eagle 56 in June 2018.

Business Insider spoke to two crew members — meat truck driver Jeff Goodreau and Massachusetts Department of Corrections officer Donald Ferrara — about their discovery.

Read More Show Less
(CIA photo)

Before the 5th Special Forces Group's Operational Detachment Alpha 595, before 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment's MH-47E Chinooks, and before the Air Force combat controllers, there were a handful of CIA officers and a buttload of cash.

Read More Show Less

The last time the world saw Marine veteran Austin Tice, he had been taken prisoner by armed men. It was unclear whether his captors were jihadists or allies of Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad who were disguised as Islamic radicals.

Blindfolded and nearly out of breath, Tice spoke in Arabic before breaking into English:"Oh Jesus. Oh Jesus."

That was from a video posted on YouTube on Sept. 26, 2012, several weeks after Tice went missing near Damascus, Syria, while working as a freelance journalist for McClatchy and the Washington Post.

Now that Tice has been held in captivity for more than seven years, reporters who have regular access to President Donald Trump need to start asking him how he is going to bring Tice home.

Read More Show Less

"Shoots like a carbine, holsters like a pistol." That's the pitch behind the new Flux Defense system designed to transform the Army's brand new sidearm into a personal defense weapon.

Read More Show Less

Sometimes a joke just doesn't work.

For example, the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service tweeted and subsequently deleted a Gilbert Gottfried-esque misfire about the "Storm Area 51" movement.

On Friday DVIDSHUB tweeted a picture of a B-2 bomber on the flight line with a formation of airmen in front of it along with the caption: "The last thing #Millenials will see if they attempt the #area51raid today."

Read More Show Less